Research project Murtala Ibrahim
Spatial Piety: Shia Religious Processions and the Politics of Contestations of Public Spaces in Northern Nigeria
Northern Nigeria’s Muslim population predominantly follows Sunni Islam. Shia in the region is a religious minority that was originated in the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) which was founded by Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky in 1979 for the purpose of struggling to establish Islamic theocracy in Nigeria.
My project will explore Shia religious processions in northern Nigerian urban centres. The major processions are: Ashura ritual procession (which is the day of commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussein); the Arba'een procession (long trekking to Hussainiyyah in Zaria to mark the forty days after the day of Ashura); and Maulud processions which celebrate the birthday of Prophet Muhammad. I intend to analyze three dimensions of these processions which are: political, performative and poetic dimensions.
Political dimension hinges on the Shia’s interpretation of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein as a symbol of struggle against injustice, tyranny and oppression. Ashura and other processions send a political statement to Nigerian government which Shia perceived as unjust, corrupt and secular that deserved to be replaced through Iranian style Islamic revolution. As a result Nigerian government identifies Shia public processions as a form of rebellion against the state. Performative dimension centred on the spectacular nature of the processions with their elements of theatricality that is informed by combination of material entailment such as colorful dress and flags, outsized images of Imam Hussein and Ayatollahs, military style parade and the orchestration of sound and music. The hyper visibility of Shia procession generates anxiety and hostile backlash from the Sunni majority because they temporarily overturn spatial order of the urban environment. Poetic dimension has to do with the meaning and values invested on the processions and their religious or spiritual significance. Moreover, theories such as Kim Knott’s spatial methodology for the study of religion, Birgit Meyer’s aesthetic formation and concept of performance will be applied in analyzing Shia public processions.